By Anya Bochman
Photos courtesy/Jane Harlan
Preakness Faith Community church, which recently changed its name from its longstanding original title as the Preakness Baptist Church, became a part of Wayne Township in 1955 when a small group of couples from the Calvary Baptist Church in Clifton began meeting as a congregation in a barn on Hamburg Turnpike.
Today, only one charter member, Roy Kay, Jr.,- now in his 90s – remains of the original congregation, which relocated to its Ratzer Road address in 1972. Jane Harlan, current pastor of the church, came to worship there that same year. Harlan remembers the original leaders of the fledgling congregation, including Reverend Robert Fisher and his evangelist successor Paul Eppinger, whom she credits with helping expand the church community. Harlan cited pastor Lloyd Kenyon, who came to the congregation in 1969, as instrumental to moving it to its present location, as well as advancing its religious studies.
Kenyon served as the church’s spiritual leader until the early 1990s; he was succeeded by Rev. Herbert Dorfman, who Harlan describes as instrumental in the congregation’s missionary work, with a “hands on” approach. Dorman was followed by David Boone and Harlan as co-pastors. In 2010, Harlan became the sole pastor of PFC.
Harlan, who is not officially ordained as a pastor, used to be a banker before she “felt called” to serve in the church; she began as a volunteer at PFC in 1972.
“I believe since I was a young girl, the Lord’s spirit touched me and guided me to this moment. I can recall singing ;Jesus Loves Me’ and ‘The B.I.B.L.E.’ over and over again and both my Lord and His word took root in my heart and soul, which sings on today,” Harlan states on the church’s website.
Though she had been involved in Christian ministry work since her teen years, the Wayne resident said that she didn’t become involved in any official capacity until the birth of her first son. Harlan became a youth pastor in 1991, serving and educating Christian teenagers. After she joined Boone as co-pastor of PFC in 2005, Harlan considered going to school to become officially ordained. Her plan was derailed when she was diagnosed with cancer shortly after; although she recovered from the illness, by that time the American Baptist Church no longer offered the degree she had sought.
“God opened all doors along the way, then he closed one,” Harlan remarked.
Fortunately, both the congregation and her fellow clergy decided that the grandmother of two didn’t need official ordination in order to continue as the church’s spiritual leader. In December of 2011, Harlan became PFC’s Senior Pastor.
“I count it a true privilege to be called the pastor and friend to the family of Preakness Faith Community,” Harlan stated. “I have visited many church families over the years but I have yet to find a more welcoming, caring, giving, faithful family of believers as the one I serve.”
Explaining the recent name change from Preakness Baptist Church to Preakness Faith Community, Harlan said that the decision came about after three years of deliberation on the part of the entire congregation. Though PFC continues to be part of the American Baptist Church denomination, the name was changed in 2017 “to reflect a stronger message to the community.”
“We felt that people were no longer geared towards any particular denomination,” Harlan said. “[The Baptist title] kept people from coming through our door. We changed the name to unite people and not be stuck in the past.”
Commenting on the new name, Harlan explained that the church’s engagement in community outreach and mission work was instrumental in choosing a title.
“We care. We serve. We believe,” Harlan said. “We chose the [new] name because we are a caring community.”
The church’s website elaborates further – “Preakness represents our roots and the area where we began; Faith represents who we are and who we serve, Jesus Christ; and Community represents why we exist today.”
Harlan, who repeatedly referred to the multi-denominational congregation of about 75 people as “strong but mighty,” is particularly proud of the church’s involvement with youth groups, mission work, senior outreach and its music ministry. She describes the church building as a sort of home – one where she dusts and takes out the garbage after services.
“One thing that puts me in awe is the caring heart of the community. We struggle as other churches are growing rapidly, but we remain a family,” Harlan said. “It’s a very warm congregation, and I’m proud to be both a pastor and a friend to the people.”
Eight years ago, PFC opened its doors to the Christian Love Church of Paterson, which had no building to host its congregants. The two ministries now share the address on Ratzer Road, with the Dominican congregation from Paterson joining PFC’s service, which is often a blend of choir music and hymns enhanced by imagery on screens and projectors, twice a month.
A central tenet that Harlan preaches to her congregants is the theological concept of imitation of Christ, which encourages people to attempt to make positive change in the world through any act of compassion.
“It doesn’t have to be a big gesture in order to make a difference or bring joy,” Harlan stated. “God called you for this, to be an imitator of Christ with your hands and feet and heart.”
The pastor added that she crafts her sermons to have an applicable message in order to aid congregants in “discovering the joy of Christ.”
As part of being “imitators of Christ,” the church members partake in a yearly group mission trip for youths and their
chaperones, with the goal of rebuilding homes for those in need. In 2018, the group went to Oswego, NY, where they rebuilt homes for senior citizens. The congregation also works with the Heart ‘n Hands Ministry at St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in Wayne, supplying clothing and blessing bags, along with providing assistance in sorting the clothing several times a year.
As an American Baptist Churches of New Jersey congregation, PFC provides financial support to many ministries connected with its denomination.
Other endeavors include aiding the Hilltop Haven Women’s Ministry in Paterson, which tends to battered women and their children. PFC supplies clothing, financial assistance, household items and toys to the families in need. At the Good Shepherd Mission for homeless men, also in Paterson, PFC likewise contributes with donations of clothing, toiletries and funding.
Preakness Faith Community helps the American Baptist Church’s camp in Lebanon, New Jersey, with the upkeep of buildings and grounds through hands-on work and financial assistance.
Joanne’s Joy, the church’s own ministry, specializes with missions domestically and abroad. This ministry also assists those that are ill and brings them comfort through homemade lap afghans and prayers.
The church is equally active in the Wayne Interfaith Network, assisting with food donations for local families in need. The pantry is located at the Wayne YMCA and works directly with the town welfare department. This year, PFC provided the pantry with 50 blessing bags for the homeless, 60 pies and five turkeys for the Interfaith Network’s Thanksgiving baskets.
In the past, PFC has worked with the island country of Tuvalu, providing support to its Prime Minister Enele Sopago and his family in combatting global warming.
In August, the church contributes to the Ulman 4K for Cancer, a non-profit organization that holds a cross-country relay-style run to benefit young people suffering from cancer. This year, PFC hosted a dinner for the runners as they completed their journey on the east coast.
“We are always open to different things,” Harlan remarked. “A lot of time it’s somebody in need we hear about, and we step in, as long as there is need outside the church.”
For its own members, the church offers child care for infants, including opportunities for active Bible learning and outreach events. It also has a Deacon Fund, which provides assistance to those in need within the congregation and the larger community.
A group for senior members meets monthly on the first Tuesday at 11 a.m. to share in various enriching activities, with the goal of building stronger friendships. The group takes two week-long trips a year.
Sunday worship takes place at PFC at 10:30 a.m., and several small bible study groups meet every two weeks on Thursdays.
“We are blessed with a family that truly cares and supports each other, is eager to give of themselves and their gifts
from God to the community, welcomes friends and strangers with open arms, never stops growing and learning His word together, loves to worship especially in word and song, and yearns for a personal relationship with the Lord and each other,” reads a message on the congregation’s website.
At the time of the interview, Harlan was looking forward to the church’s Christmas cantata, “Only Love,” which was presented during morning worship on Sunday, Dec. 9. The inspirational musical presentation was followed by a light luncheon. “We are a church that loves to eat,” Harlan said jokingly.